The story so far: The Hasdeo Aranya forests are called the lungs of Chhattisgarh. Over the past one year, protests against mining in this region have erupted several times and some still continue to sit-in demanding a complete stop to mining. Amidst this, on July 26, the Chhattisgarh Legislative Assembly unanimously passed a private member resolution urging the Centre to cancel allocation of all coal mining blocks in the ecologically sensitive area.
According to Chakshu Roy, who heads the legislative and civic engagement initiatives at PRS Legislative Research, an MLA who is not a Minister — whether she happens to be from the ruling party or not — is a private member. A private member resolution can be brought in by a private member and if passed, it becomes an expression of what the House thinks. This is different from a private member bill which would become law in case of approval.
Such private member resolutions were passed by the State Assemblies of Punjab and Kerala, during the farm law agitation, where both state legislatures had expressed their displeasure against the then proposed (now withdrawn) farm laws. In the given case, the Chhattisgarh Assembly has passed a resolution urging the Centre to cancel allocation of all coal mining blocks in the Hasdeo region.
Dharmjeet Singh, an MLA who represents Lormi, a segment of the Bilaspur Lok Sabha constituency introduced the resolution. Mr. Singh is one of the three MLAs from the Janata Congress Chhattisgarh (J) or JCC(J). The JCC(J) is a party founded by former Chief Minister Ajit Jogi and is currently being led by his son, Amit Jogi, and has three MLAs in the current Assembly. Mr. Singh has been a vocal supporter of the protests going on in the Hasdeo region and had also tried to move the resolution in the last Assembly session. With Assembly elections scheduled next year, Mr. Singh’s party is also looking to ride on the popular and intensifying anti-mining sentiments, say those from other parties.
The Hasdeo Aranya (Aranya means forest) lies in the catchment area of the Hasdeo river and is spread across 1,878 sq km in North-Central Chhattisgarh. The Hasdeo river is a tributary of the Mahanadi river which originates in Chhattisgarh and flows through Odisha into the Bay of Bengal. The Hasdeo forests are also the catchment area for the Hasdeo Bango Dam built across the Hasdeo river which irrigates six lakh acres of land, crucial to a State with paddy as its main crop. Besides, the forests are ecologically sensitive due to the rich biodiversity they offer and due to the presence of a large migratory corridor for elephants.
Underneath the Hasdeo Aranya is a coalfield that comprises of 22 coal blocks. In 2010, the Centre categorised Hasdeo Aranya to be a “no-go” zone for mining. It ruled out mining in any of these blocks. However, only a year later, the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEF) granted clearance for the mining for one coal block. At present, of the 22 blocks, seven blocks have been allotted to different companies, says the resolution.
Of these, two — the Parsa East Kete Basan (PEKB) and Chotia (I and II) — are operational. The PEKB Phase I has been completely mined while there has been local opposition to mining and deforestation in Parsa, PEKB Phase II and Kete Extension — all three allotted to the Rajasthan Rajya Vidyut Utpadan Nigam Ltd (RRVUNL).
After the gram sabhas opposed mining in the Madanpur South and Gidmudi Paturia blocks that were allotted to the Andhra Pradesh Mineral Development Company (APMDC) and Chhattisgarh State Power Generation Company (CSPGC) respectively, clearances were withdrawn. Mr. Singh’s resolution notes that mining activities are halted in all five of these blocks.
Four other blocks had been listed for auction by the Centre but were taken off the list after the State government wrote a letter requesting the Centre to not allow mining in these blocks located in the catchment areas of the two important rivers Hasdeo and Mand. In his resolution, Mr. Singh has urged the State government to use the same principle to stop mining in the already allocated Hasdeo coal blocks where no activity has started thus far. He suggested that these companies may be allotted coal blocks elsewhere in Chhattisgarh or in rest of the mining-rich areas in the country.
Despite the members of both the ruling Congress and the principal Opposition BJP — that is in power at the Centre — adopting it, the resolution isn’t expected to change the status quo. While the Congress says the onus is on the Centre to stop mining, the BJP has been asking the State government to withdraw the clearances it has issued to mine developers and operators (MDOs) who handle all mining activities on behalf of the companies that hold the mining lease. Mr. Singh said in his speech that due to mining in PEKB and Parsa, three lakh trees will be felled which would be detrimental to Chhattisgarh. While urging the Centre to stop mining, he also mentioned the clearances provided by the State government such as the final clearance from the forest department and those under the Air Pollution Act and the Water Pollution Act.
During the discussion on the private member resolution, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel said it was for the Centre to decide to whom a coal block should be allocated and that the State government had no role in it. Activists, however, say that the clearances mentioned in Mr. Singh’s speech are like a veto power held by the State government that can stop mining activities from starting. They also reiterate, as did Mr. Singh in his speech, about Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s promise during a visit to Madanpur village in 2015 where he assured that he would fight for the local tribals opposing coal mining.